March 23, 2012
The Yankees Psych Out Torii Hunter's Memory
If you ever needed proof that a narrative can be more powerful than human memory, consider Jon Heyman’s latest piece at CBS Sports. Heyman writes about the Twins’ repeated postseason defeats against the Yankees. Within, Heyman asks former Twins Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer whether it became mental, whether the Twins were “psyched out” by the Yankees. Hunter’s response raises eyebrows:
Hunter recalled one 2004 ALDS game the Twins lost where they had a runner on third with one out, down a run against the great Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, and Twins manager [sic] called on a young righty-hitting Lew Ford to bat against Rivera, and Hunter recalled Ford turning down the pinch-hit assignment.
Hunter’s story serves as a revelation and damning indictment on the Twins’ mental state, except for one little thing—the events as he describes them never happened. Yes, the Yankees and Twins met in the 2004 playoffs, and yes Kubel did appear in two of those games (Games Two and Four) where he did face Rivera at one point. Beyond those facts, Hunter’s gospel turns into apocrypha.
If you start with the game Kubel pinch-hit in, Game Four, then the first inaccuracy worth noting is that Kubel comes in to face Tom Gordon, not Rivera. One could forgive Hunter for mixing up his 2004 Yankees late-inning options, but he states that the tying run was on third base with one out and that Ford refused to enter. In reality, the bases were empty with two outs and Ford couldn’t have refused to enter the game because he had started the game. Whether Gordon jammed Kubel isn’t as clear, but Kubel doubled either way.
In Kubel’s other appearance, he started at designated hitter. This is the game where Kubel faced Rivera with a runner on third (and an unmentioned runner at second) with one out. But the Yankees were not up by one. In fact, Hunter himself had crossed the plate to score the game-tying run on the previous play. One other thing: Rivera did not jam Kubel. Not unless Hunter’s definition of jamming includes a called strike and two whiffs.
This isn’t meant to rag on Hunter. The scene he described to Heyman may have occurred in Game Two, and the Yankees may have intimidated the Twins to the point where Minnesota’s on-the-field failures became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Myriad factual inaccuracies just make it difficult to take Hunter’s memory at face value, especially when the truth is so easily verifiable nowadays.